James Zabiela - Balance 029

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  • When I saw the tracklist for Balance 029, James Zabiela's first official mix CD since 2010, I was reminded of Aphex Twin's much-lauded set at Field Day festival last year. There, Richard D. James, playing his first UK show in five years, wowed the 15,000-strong crowd with tunes by cutting-edge acts like Chino Amobi and Lorenzo Senni, proving that, even after all that time away, his finger was still impressively on the pulse. Balance 029 carries a similar element of surprise. By placing new music from the likes of Sapphire Slows, Special Request and Anthony Linell front and centre, Zabiela shows that he hasn't lost touch. Zabiela has always had a taste for drama, both in terms of what he plays and the way he plays it. Tracks with big melodies are central to his act, something which, as he told Magnetic Mag, he was keen to convey on Balance 029. The results are mixed. The opening ten minutes of Act 1, the mix's more downtempo first half, are warm and tender. The bright twinkle of Sapphire Slows' "Silent Escape" is an inspired opener. By the time the woody, uplifting bassline of B12's "Untold" bursts through four tracks later, the mix is sprightly and glowing. But then things go awry. Rather than subtly building the mood, Zabiela plummets off the deep end into Grandbrothers' "Bloodflow," a partially beatless and over-the-top piano number. A similar thing happens around Act 1's midway point—just as the mix is regaining headway via some choice acid rollers from Ecco Foul and Pye Corner Audio, the kicks drop away again, leaving the naked, melancholy keys of Debussy's "Reverie 68," as reworked by Second Storey and Appleblim. In both cases, there's too stark a contrast in emotional content from one track to the next. Zabiela spent the best part of a year on Balance 029, whittling down its 58 tracks from an initial 3000. But in doing so, he possibly overthought Act 1, trying to cram in too many ideas and musical moods. Act 2 is just as stylistically diverse, yet its dance floor focus makes for a smoother and more engrossing listen. Things don't start well—more soppy piano, this time courtesy of UK soloist Goldmund—but the rest of the mix is Zabiela at his best: thumping, fast-paced and never dull. (There's even some of that famous scratching.) He has said he wanted to combine "songs that would have 'conversations' with each other." Where in Act 1 some of the transitions, however slick, felt forced, Act 2 is full of smart blends and segues. Take the way Avalon Emerson's "The Frontier (High Desert Synthapella)" wafts briefly in and out of shot during the breakdown of Radio Slave's "Children Of The E (KiNK SP1200 Mix)." Or the seamless pause for breath that follows Lanark Artefax's "Touch Absence" before it becomes Lake People's excellent remix of Lawrence's "Simmer." Save for the odd cheesy blip here and there, the mix is a strong return for Zabiela. It confirms what his fans have always known: he's a skilled selector with broad tastes and an obsessive devotion to his craft. With Balance 029, Zabiela has achieved what so many of his peers have struggled with over the years: staying relevant.
  • Tracklist
      Act 1: 01. Sapphire Slows - Silent Escape 02. Kornél Kovács - Szikra 03. Barry Lynn - Alpha Tauri 04. Earlham Mystics - Truth 05. B12 - Untold 06. VC-118A - Face The Waves 07. Grandbrothers - Bloodflow 08. Sad City - Steady Jam 09. Talaboman - Safe Changes 10. Francisco Branda - Hyena 11. Ecco Foul - Gloss 12. Pye Corner Audio - Dead Ends 13. HOLOVR - Into Light 14. Debussy - Reverie 68 (Second Story & Appleblim Rework) 15. Island People - Distance 7 16. Oddhoody - The Deep 17. Merrin Karras - Void 18. Pev & Kowton - Junked 19. Davis - Plenitude 20. Ozel AB - Positronic Dreams 21. OOBE - Crush Mind 22. Courser - Distances 23. James Zabiela - Vines 24. AAAA - Jazz D 25. ARCHITECTURAL - Cubismo 8.2 (Lost in Buenos Aires I) Act 2: 01. Goldmund - Thread 02. Earlham Mystics - Waters 03. Steve Hauschildt - Horizon Of Appearances 04. Radio Slave - Children Of The E (KiNK SP1200 Mix) 05. Avalon Emerson - The Frontier (High Desert Synthapella) 06. James Zabiela - X-Ray 07. Mak & Pasteman - Pulses 08. Pisetzky - Vahana 09. Lanark Artefax - Touch Absence 10. John Beltran - Under This Sky 11. Lawrence - Simmer (Lake People Remix) 12. Solitary Dancer - Paradise Found (Rapture Version) 13. Chambray - Cerulean 14. Silas & Snare - Memories 15. Redlight - City Jams 16. Lake People - Delusive 17. Truncate - WRKTRX 3 18. Rod - Pull (with Christina) 19. Plant43 - Frozen Monarch 20. Sinfol - Crystalline feat. Barbara Ford 21. Steve Parker - Acid Planet 22. Fabrizio Lapiana - Far Away 23. SHDW & Obscure Shape - Augen Der Nacht (Ryan James Ford Version) 24. Benjamin Damage - Montreal 25. Mark Henning - Expander Six 26. Special Request - Carex Vesicaria 27. Wata Igarashi - Lucifero 28. Paper Dollhouse - Crayons 29. A Sagittariun - Vanishing Point 30. Anthony Linell - Fractal Vision 31. Hans Berg - In Dreams 32. Sine Sleeper - Closing 33. J. Mono - Sspses